The reality of growing older is explored in ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ (Albom, 1998), where an important theme is the acceptance of the physical and mental changes that aging brings in its wake. To experience old age without regret, we have to find a purpose for living while we are still young. Being aware of our own mortality on a daily basis can help us do that. Grief comes easily to many older people because of the losses they experience. This is discussed in ‘Lapping’ (Halligan, 2001) where the author compares the movement of the mind to the rise and fall of waves on the seashore with some memories becoming prominent and others fading away over time. Loss, and the grief that comes with aging, is also discussed in the article ‘A poetic life’ (Leser, 2005). We are reminded here that loss can sometimes be a time to learn valuable lessons. In old age there are many lessons that can be learnt about the strength of the spirit and those who find this inner strength can triumph over all kinds of physical limitations. Finding new directions in our lives after retirement is important. In ‘Not to yield’ (McDonald, 2000), we are reminded that growing older need not be an excuse to stop learning or following our passion. Memories represent unique aspects of our personalities. In ‘Saying Goodbye’ (McInnes, 2005), we learn about what happens when Alzheimer’s disease robs people of their memories and they become strangers to themselves and to their loved ones. Sometimes we wonder if knowing the diagnosis of an incurable and progressive illness like Alzheimer’s serves any purpose. In ‘The right to self-determination’ (Pieters-Hawke & Flynn, 2004) this question is explored. Early awareness can enable people to plan ahead and ensure that what happens to them in the future is according to their wish.
We gain experiential knowledge by listening to the stories of others (story witnessing). The insight from the narratives listed above have helped me develop empathy and to realise that there are no readymade solutions to many of life’s problems. Only by understanding the unique situations of others through active listening can I hope to help them effectively.